Normally the first preseason game never holds much importance to an 11-year NBA veteran. In fact, most well-established players do not take a preseason game seriously until the final dress rehearsal before the start of the regular season. But when the Houston Rockets opened their first of four preseason games inside the United Center, Friday’s contest against the Chicago Bulls was far from the norm.
Instead of coming into the game full of excitement surrounding several new key additions, the main storyline for the Rockets took place a total of 1,081.7 miles outside of Chicago with a disgruntled James Harden noticeably absent on the night.
But while fans held on to the notion that a great outing by the new-look Rockets would convince their beloved MVP to reconsider his trade request, the controversy surrounding Harden was not enough to steal a joyous moment from two of his new teammates and head coach.
“It was a good showing. It shows it’s a really good team here regardless of the circumstances floating around the team. It is still a really good team in place. We’re not rolling over because a few pieces are missing. We are going to go out and perform. Hopefully, those pieces join us, and we continue to improve as a team.” — DeMarcus Cousins
One of those joyous moments came from John Wall — who was acquired by the Rockets in a trade with the Washington Wizards for Russell Westbrook a little more than a week ago.
Just 15 seconds after the opening tip, Wall scored his first unofficial bucket as a member of the Rockets. Looking as quick and explosive as ever, Wall drove past Bulls’ guard Coby White to give the Rockets a lead they would never relinquish en route to a 125-104 victory.
Wall’s first basket of the night was a moment that took two years in the making after his last professional game on Dec. 26, 2018. Wall has since experienced life’s highs and lows from the birth of his second son to the loss of his late mother, Frances Pulley.
“My ultimate moment was just being on the bus listing to music while I try and get myself into the zone. But at the same time, just wishing [my mom] was able to be here. It’s weird how God works, because I had my first preseason game a day to the year my mom passed. My goal was to go out there and compete at the best level. And give all that I have.” — Wall
Wall said during his time in Washington that he never had the opportunity to play in an offense with the amount of floor-spacing that the Rockets provide. Along with running the floor with Eric Gordon, Ben McLemore and Gerald Green, Wall also ran a plethora of pick-and-pops throughout the night with DeMarcus Cousins — who appeared in his first NBA game since Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals with the Warriors.
The four-time All-Star missed all of the 2020 season after tearing his ACL with the Lakers last August.
“I haven’t really had a chance to take everything in. I got a really dope message from my mom and my wife before the game that kind of put a lot of things in perspective for me. I am the type of guy who is always on to the next, regardless if it is good or bad. The messages I got from my ladies in my life really touched me before the game.” — Cousins
Given everything Wall and Cousins have been through the last 24 months, they exhibited the definition of perseverance during the combined 34 minutes they were on the floor. However, the most significant example of endurance came from their new head coach Stephen Silas.
For 20 years, Silas sat on the sidelines as an assistant. But for the first time in his career, the 47-year-old Boston native sat at the helms of an NBA team as head coach.
“Right as the anthem started, I took a moment and just looked around. It was almost a surreal feeling that I’m the head coach of the Houston Rockets — which is obviously a historic franchise. We talked about the adversity these guys have been through. Everybody has their own story — even I do as a 20-year assistant. Embracing the moment is something I have been preaching to the guys.” — Silas
Following their first preseason win, the Rockets will return to the United Center for their second match against the Bulls on Sunday. Tip-off is slated for 7 P.M. CT.